But woe to you, Pharisees, because you tithe the mint and the rue, and every plant, and pass by the judgment and the love of God. Luke 11:42
Pass By – Pharisees were characterized by their scrupulous attention to the commandments of the Torah. In addition, they followed the teachings of the oral tradition in a real effort to make sure that there wasn’t even the possibility of violating one of God’s instructions. In their zealous pursuit, some of the Pharisees replaced inward devotion with outward compliance. In other words, they thought that they fulfilled God’s requirements by their behavior alone. Jesus took them to task over this mistake, but He didn’t argue that the outward demonstration wasn’t needed. He argued that the outward demonstration must begin with inward reverence.
In order to be sure that they never violated the necessity of the tithe, these Pharisees offered ten percent of everything, including their herbs growing in the garden. If there were ten leaves on the mint plant, one must be offered to God. Their zeal was admirable, but the motivation was mistaken. They were so concerned with the details of compliance that they forgot the bigger picture. Jesus says that they passed by (parerchomai is the verb) the real issues. The imagery is important. The word means to come close to, to come near. In other words, this verb tells us that the Pharisees were in the proximity of righteous behavior, but they didn’t quite get there. What they were doing wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite right either. They just barely missed the mark.
Most of us don’t tithe from our herbs. Maybe we should, as a reminder that it all belongs to God. Jesus just might smile at our desire to be so careful with His Father’s Word, but we will be no better off than the Pharisees He criticized if we don’t pay attention to the weightier matters. Even tithing today can become merely the fulfillment of a religious obligation. The tithe means nothing unless it is part of a life that finds the source of its action in the character of God. Jesus points to judgment and love. Today we have the tendency to emphasize the second and ignore the first. That is also a mistake. Unless we do more than come near God’s judgment, His love will not mean much more than a tenth of its true nature.
We have replaced tithing herbs with tithing budgets. It’s the same problem – meticulous counting to meet a particular requirement. That’s not in alignment with the character of God’s judgment or love. Imagine if God dispensed His love with the same calculated exactness as the way we tithe. How would we respond to ten-percent grace?
If your tithe smells like basil or mint, you might want to reconsider Jesus’ remark. God’s love knows no boundaries. Neither does His judgment (which fortunately is presently postponed). Now is the time to convert from one leaf in ten to cheerful gratitude.
Topical Index: Tithe